Saturday, December 27, 2014

Day One

Well, the end of yet another "year" has arrived.

I've often struggled with this time of year, portrayed as an event...

"The end".

"The beginning".

This is one of those points in the school year when every reflective educator shifts into a period of introspection, of scrutiny.

Pressure mounts, because of a blend of satisfaction with what's been started, with an unsettled feeling, knowing what has yet to be accomplished.

At first, it's the calendar that seems to be an unstoppable obstacle to progress.

Historically, school years are marked by frequent starts and stops, which have become "milestones".

"The first day of school" and "the last day of school".

Winter recess, spring break, and summer vacation.

Conference days, half-days, three-day weekends, snow days, and...the inevitable...sick days.

"Count downs" until they arrive have become events, adding a level of distraction, and compromising valuable learning time.

Each of these breaks, while creating a sense of excitement and restoration, also presents a serious down-side: an interruption to routines, positive habits, and momentum.

But the issue (my issue) is less about the calendar, and more about the mindset that school is "the place" where learning happens.

I've always been challenged by the anticipation of a "new year". As a teacher, I felt I hadn't done enough in the classroom. Back then, it was helping students become fluent readers and confident problem solvers. My driving purpose was to help each student find his/her reason for "coming to school".

Feeling that "the clock was ticking" left me feeling that I was racing against time, so not to fail - my students. My job as their teacher was to help them discover potential they had yet to see in themselves. This was my calling. How could I allow the discontinuity of a calendar make me feel as if I were coming up short?

Now, I lose sleep over students (and their families) who lack the necessary resources to build continuity between school and home. I become distracted, by adults who seem to have a stagnant mindset, almost working against dedicated teams focused on exhausting every option to create conditions of success for all children. And I become focused on building a culture that maintains a learning haven, where all who enter can check "personal baggage", in exchange for a ticket to optimism, hope, and personal success.

My tension has become a driver for me. What once created a physical and emotional angst now fuels me to reject complacency and compels act.

Every. Single. Day.

Undoubtedly, the traditional "school calendar" has reinforced tendencies to comply with school as we've known it. But to be successful, learning must be thought of and modeled as something that happens well beyond one grade, or 180 days. School must become an organization that embraces sustained efforts to build relationships and support autonomous learners, beyond the school walls.

I am proud to be amidst a culture shift that is occurring where I am a learning leader. And I am proud to say I am one of the learners, stretching and "being stretched".

In the last two weeks these are just some ways that we've celebrated learning:

  • Live instrumental music, played by students, has streamed through the halls.

  • Teachers smiled proudly, seeing their enthusiastic students, excited for genius hour projects - proof that confirmed that instructional risks pay off.

  • Teacher teams modeled the simple pleasure of reading and the power of student voice, in a book "blind date" activity.

  • Passionate teachers took risks to engage students in meaningful social learning, while also using technology as a tool for formative assessment.

  • Ten-year-olds learned how to code, and inquiring how to continue at home.

  • Generations partnered, as we welcomed members of our local senior citizen center into our school, sharing our community space.

  • Members of after-school clubs engaged in physical activity, to raise money and awareness for those afflicted with illness.

  • Parent volunteers visited our building, showing adolescents what true service and empathy look like - and what it means to give your time to help someone else.

  • Teachers cooked with kids, sharing fulfillment of a family gathering.

  • A school community wore school colors, college t-shirts, and "ugly sweaters".

  • Classes competed, for hot chocolate...and bragging rights, to see who could help purchase toys for sick and underprivileged children.

  • Our school connected virtually with another to learn about how Chromebooks (and a growth mindset) will take our learners and our schools to the next level of purposeful engagement in 2015.

  • Our team, like family, shared moments of sincere gratitude, with tokens of appreciation, hugs, laughs, and in some cases, tears.

We engaged one another, not in school learning...but in life-long learning.

Highlights such as these are a testament to the good work being done in schools today, to create authentic learning experiences that move learning beyond the school walls.

So why does this have to stop? doesn't.

The start of a new calendar year tends to invite pressure - to resolve to accomplish new things.

"One day. I will do day."

And it seems that the momentum that inspires this to start becomes an afterthought, sooner, rather than later.

The cliché to do something "one day" has got to be day one.

And there's no sense waiting until January 1 to get started on this mindset, because each and every day presents a new chance to make, "one day", Day One.

To fully commit ourselves to breaking away from learning being a "school thing" and happening one day, there are clear commitments to building a learning culture that embraces Day One thinking:

  1. Surround ourselves with others who both "talk the talk" and more importantly, "walk the walk".
  2. Be intuitive, understanding that each person has his/her own reality for when/how a spark is lit.
  3. Be resourceful and creative, opening pathways, pushing and pulling others towards their passions.
  4. Be patient and willing to keep an open invitation to others, to join a team of passionate and supportive learners.
  5. Be intentional, to drive ourselves to our outer personal limits, and model being fearless learners.
All members of our learning organization seek, demand, and challenge us to meet them where they are. They just ask for us to help in different ways. And we owe it to them, to deliver.

Why? Because we are breaking away from the idea that schools exist to prepare students for a test, for the next grade, or the next school. We are preparing learners to become autonomous, relentless, and compassionate leaders in our local and global communities.

Because that is what the world needs right now - deep, meaningful learning that transcends our school walls.

Are we ready to make today, day one?


  1. Excellent post, Dennis. Building a community helps us move away from the view that learning only happens in a certain place. When we see multiple generations working together, when we have learners of all ages competing and collaborating, with positive goals to be met, when we encourage students (and teachers, administrators, and parents) to explore what interests them as a way to further deep learning, then we're helping to show that learning doesn't happen in "a place," in happens throughout "a life."

    Your switch from "one day" to "Day One" is powerful. It puts action at the forefront and signifies the importance of acting quickly, as we never know if there will be another day. Of course, we also want learners of all ages to see the importance of long-term planning. So, "one day" can be helpful too, as long as that "one day" is a benchmark to be met, not an excuse for procrastination. :)

  2. Fred, thanks for the thoughtful feedback. What you wrote about "one day", has me thinking about the work we do for/with learners in regards to goal setting, forward-thinking, and backwards-planning. This is where "one day" becomes where a learner strives to be.

    I believe if we invest the time and energy in children, we can set them up for success, so their "one day" aspiration can become our "day one" motivation.

    Fred, thank you for stretching my reflection, even further.